A person pouring a solution into a water softener system.

Water Conditioner vs. Water Softener: Which is Right for Your Home?

The Differences and Benefits of a Water Conditioner vs. Water Softener

If you want better water quality in your home but aren’t sure where to start, then you are in the perfect place, as we will discuss a water conditioner vs. water softener, and which may be best for you.

Your home may have hard water, which means there are high levels of dissolved minerals, like calcium and magnesium ions, in the water supply. Because of the presence of minerals, hard water can cause what is known as scaling. Scaling is a buildup that forms on sink hardware, pipes and surfaces that appears white in color.

The terms water conditioner vs. water softener are thrown around quite a bit in terms of improving a home’s water quality, but they aren’t synonyms. These two systems have different purposes. Before you make a purchase, you will need to know how water conditioners and water softeners function and if they are right for your home.

What is a Water Softener?

A water softener system can be used in a residence or business. It uses a process called ion exchange or reverse osmosis to soften your home’s water. Essentially, a water softener system removes dissolved mineral ions in hard water and replenishes the water with sodium ions, thus softening it.

The system works by the means of two tanks. One tank has resin beads coated with sodium ions, while the second tank contains a solution that regenerates the resin in the first tank. As water enters the first tank, the mineral ions become attracted to the resin beads and are displaced. Next, the sodium ions take over, bonding to the water’s molecules, going from hard water to soft water.

Over time, you will need to refill the second tank with the salty solution because at some point the resin beads won’t be able to remove dissolved minerals. Although this water system does require occasional maintenance, it eliminates hard water in your home.

What is a Water Conditioner?

There are various types of water conditioners, and unlike water softener systems, most conditioners are salt-free. Water conditioners remove substances like lead, chlorine, gasses, chloramine and compounds called volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Many water conditioner systems are comprised of a material called template-assisted crystallization (TAC). Hardened water passes over the TAC technology, causing the hard minerals to react with the TAC. It then forms into crystals or seed crystals. The seed crystals then reconvene into the water, softening it. However, not all hard mineral ions are removed in this process and have formed into these seed crystals, but the ones that remain will bond to the seed crystals instead of your plumbing’s hardware and fixtures.

Water conditioners can also use other methods to change the chemistry of the water particles. Some of these are:

  • Electrically-induced precipitation, which uses a direct electrical current to combat water hardness.
  • Electrochemical water treatment, which also utilizes electricity.
  • Magnetic water treatment, which uses magnets to treat the water supply.

Which One is Best for You?

Both water softeners and water conditioners aim to tackle the issue of water hardness in their own ways, but which one is best for you?

Water conditioners remove water hardness, but they also take on other water problems, like removing biological contaminants. Conditioners can help eliminate bacteria and algae, which are substances that can produce buildup on surfaces. These systems also use less water than softeners.

Meanwhile, a water softener isn’t designed to remove biofilm, but it can reduce scaling. Softeners eliminate hard particles in your water, like calcium and magnesium. Softener systems have been known to help reduce the amount of soap and detergent you need to use, and they can improve dry skin. These systems do require tank maintenance periodically.

If you are looking to remove water hardness, then go with a water softener over a water conditioner, especially if you don’t mind the occasional maintenance. If you are wanting to remove additional chemicals, like chlorine, then use a water conditioner. However, it is not advisable to use both systems.

The Surprising Benefits

While some people use water softeners and conditioners to change the chemistry and taste of their water with concern over the hard water particles, others sing the praises of these systems’ numerous health benefits.

Softeners and conditioners not only eliminate hard minerals, but they also can:

  • Give you noticeably healthier, stronger hair.
  • Make your skin softer by producing gentler water.
  • Make your clothes softer and cleaner.
  • Be easier on pipes, plumbing and appliances.
  • Make your dishwasher run more efficiently.
  • Help you save money on your monthly utility bills.

The Best of the Best: Top Water Softeners and Water Conditioners

Top 3 Water Softeners

If you have decided that a water softener system is the best plan for your home, then your next step is deciding on one of the many softener systems. Here are some of the best water softeners currently on the market:

1. Whirlpool 40,000 Grain Water Softener
For a high-quality water softener, look no further than this system designed by Whirlpool. Not only will Whirlpool’s softener system immediately transform your home’s hard water to soft with its single-tank unit, but it will also tackle the problem of hard water at the source, protecting the plumbing from exposure.

The whole-home Whirlpool water softener has a capacity of 40,000 grains and regenerates salt automatically with its metered system. It really is a whole-home water softener, as it is designed with a capacity for a large household of up to six people. Currently, it is about $520 on online stores.

2. GE 40,000 Grain Water Softener
GE’s whole-home water softener has a 40,200-grain capacity that can effectively service a four-person household. It’s easy to install, taking only 30 minutes, and its regeneration is equally fast, taking two hours with 37 gallons of water to refill for usage.

GE’s smart technology optimizes regeneration with automated schedules that refill your soft water supply for peak periods. Your family will have plenty of soft water for the morning rush and nightly showers. Online, this high-quality water softener is sold for $649 and has stellar reviews.

3. Waterboss Model 900 Water Softener
Water softeners can get expensive, so if you are looking for a more economical choice, try out the Waterboss. It still has a fairly high capacity at 36,400 grains and has an impressive regeneration cycle of 24 minutes (using about 17 gallons of water). It’s smaller than the other top two choices, servicing a household of three to four people, but it definitely gets the job done.

Its controls are user friendly and the Waterboss costs about $500 (or sometimes less with ongoing deals) at online retailers.

Top 3 Water Conditioners

1. SpringWell FutureSoft Salt-Free Water Softener
The SpringWell system uses technology that eliminates scaling on your precious plumbing, faucets and hardware. Not only that, but this water conditioner system will reduce hard water, protect your water appliances, service a household of up to six or more people and all without the salt, which is the method most water conditioners use.

The SpringWell water conditioner system has a do-it-yourself installation process and doesn’t require much maintenance across its lifetime. Speaking of lifetime, it has a lifetime warranty and a six-month money-back guarantee. The SpringWell FutureSoft water conditioner costs about $1,550 at most retailers.

2. FilterSmart Premium Salt Free Water Softener Alternative PRO Series
A good alternative to the SpringWell water conditioning system is the FilterSmart. It has the same capacity of serving a household of six or more people plus all the same health and house benefits as the SpringWell.

The FilterSmart is also salt-free and uses TAC as its treatment process, however, the TAC doesn’t require regeneration, which saves you on water, salt and money. You can opt for two different sizes. One has a capacity for one to three bathrooms, while the other can handle four to six bathrooms. Installation is fairly easy if your capable with tools. The FilterSmart costs $1,508.45.

3. Tier1 Essential Series 48,000 Grain High Efficiency Digital Water Softener
For the most cost-effective water conditioner system, try the well-reviewed Tier1 system. Using TAC as its treatment process, the Tier1 provides you will all of the positive effects of a water conditioner, like reduced scaling, removal of sediment and other minerals before the water hits the conditioning tank, and like the FilterSmart, is available in two different sizes.

Although the Tier1 doesn’t come with the same money-back guarantee or lifetime warranty as the other water conditioning systems, its price tag is much more palatable at $519.99.